Aaland Islanders

Location: The Gulfs of Bothnia and Finland
Population: 21,700 Swedish speakers
% of population: 95% of Aaland Island population
Religion: Protestant
Language: Swedish

The Aaland (Aland) Islanders are the Swedish-speaking inhabitants of the Finnish islands of Aaland. Ceded with the rest of Finland to Russia in 1809 the Islands were returned to Finland by the League of Nations in 1921, despite calls by the Islanders for reunification with Sweden. The Finnish government undertook to respect and preserve the Swedish language, culture and traditions of the Islanders and the Swedish government agreed to withdraw its claim to sovereignty over the Islands.

Under the Autonomy Act of 1952 the Islands collectively are a province of Finland with a single-chamber parliament of 27 members, and administration is controlled by a seven-member Provincial Executive Council. Members of the Council are appointed by the parliament but the chairman (also Governor of the Islands) must be approved by the Finnish government, and all laws issued by the Islands’ parliament must be ratified by the President of the Republic. The provincial parliament determines the Islands’ budget and has legislative power over matters pertaining to education, electoral law, taxation, housing, agriculture and fisheries, commerce and industry, health and hospital services. The Swedish character of the Islands is preserved through regulations on language, education, regional citizenship and the acquisition of property on the Islands. Swedish is the official language of the Islands, although a Finn may use his language before the courts; it is also the medium of education. Aaland regional citizenship is conferred upon citizens who have spent five years in residence on the islands and only those with regional citizenship can acquire land or vote in communal and provincial elections. These and other provisions have made the Aaland Islands a model worldwide for the treatment of minority groups by a host nation.

The Aaland Islanders form part of a much larger Swedish community in Finland which in 1982 totalled 305,000, or 6.3% of a total population of 4.85 million. Most Swedish speakers live in the coastal areas of south and south-western Finland where 44 communes are totally Swedish-speaking. Swedish, along with Finnish, is a national language of Finland, and although there is no special provision for the maintenance of Swedish as on the Aaland Islands, institutional arrangements ensure its continued use in education and the media, whilst close economic and cultural ties between Finland and Sweden ensure the role of Swedish as a language of everyday communication. About 75% of Swedish speakers vote for the Swedish Peoples’ Party which has representation in the Finnish Parliament.

(See also Saami of Lapland)